Bernardo Atxaga

The author speaks of his language, Euskera
Tis text was written as a prologue to the book Obabakoak (Vintage, 1994). Translated by Margaret Jull Costa.

I write in a strange language. Its verbs,
the structure of its relative clauses,
the words it uses to designate ancient things
- rivers, plants, birds -
have no sisters anywhere on Earth.
A house is etxe, a bee erle, death heriotz.
The sun of the long winters we call eguzki or eki;
the sun of the sweet, rainy springs is also
- as you'd expect - called eguzki or eki.
(it's a strange language, but not that strange).

Born, they say, in the megalithic age,
it survived, this stubborn language, by withdrawing,
by hiding away like a hedgehog in a place,
which, thanks to the traces it left behind there,
the world named the Basque Country or Euskal Herria.
Yet its isolation could never have been absolute
- cat is katu, pipe is pipa, logic is lojika -
rather, as the prince of detectives would have said,
the hedgehog, my dear Watson, crept out of its hiding place
(to visit, above all, Rome and all its progeny).

The language of a tiny nation, so small
you cannot even find it on the map,
it never strolled in the gardens of the Court
or past the marble statues of government buildings;
in four centuries it produced only a hundred books&
the first in 1545; the most important in 1643;
the Calvinist New Testament in 1571;
the complete Catholic Bible around 1860.
Its sleep was long, its bibliography brief
(but in the twentieth century, the hedgehog awoke).

Obabakoak, this book published now in this city,
the city of Dickens, of Wilkie Collins and of so many others,
is one of the latest books to join the Basque bibliography.
It was written in several houses and in several countries,
and its subject is simply life in general.
And Obaba is just Obaba: a place, a setting;
Ko means 'of'; a is a determiner; k the plural.
The literal translation: The People or Things of Obaba;
a less literal translation: Stories from Obaba
(and with that I conclude this prologue).

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